Monday, May 30, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.9: A Lion's Mane as Miracle of Natural Selection

piitaa-kRt'-aaMso viraraaja siMhaH
ruupy-aaNgadaM shiirNam iv' aambikasya

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A lion with shoulders made orange

From contact with orange-red arsenic ore

Looked like Ambika's crumpled armband

Of wrought silver streaked with refined gold.

manaH-shilaa, lit. "mind-rock," means realgar, the orange-red arsenic ore shown here, courtesy again of Wikipedia.

Who Ambika was is not known, though he can be assumed to be another mythical figure, possibly a very big god with giant biceps, since his armlet looked like a lion; or maybe more likely a god whose crumpled armband resembled a lion's mane -- because when we observe a real lion not much about him resembles a crumpled armband except (especially when we observe him front-on) his shaggy mane.

EHJ notes: "A proper name being required, I have conjectured the existence of Aambika as equivalent to Aambikeya or Ganesha whose hue is yellow."

Especially in the absence of accurate knowledge about who Ambika was supposed to be, I have struggled to see what the overall gist of today's verse might be. But the first point to take from today's verse might be that even in heaven a lion's shoulder acquires an orange colouration not out of nowhere but from contact with a real substance like realgar, that is to say, an orange-red ore of arsenic.

The gaining of this foothold seems to invite further consideration of cause and effect.

And thinking about yesterday's verse and today's verse on the basis of cause and effect, it occurs to me that a peacock's tail feathers and a lion's mane are two quite spectacular examples of results of evolution in the real world by the means of natural selection.

Perhaps Ashvaghosha's thinking is that heaven should be a place of amazing, fantastic and miraculous phenomena; and so he imagined in heaven things like a peacock's feathers and a lion's mane -- amazing and fantastic things which have evolved, amazingly and miraculously, down here on earth by means of natural selection, in full accordance with the law of cause and effect.

Perhaps Ashvagosha's intention is to present a vision of heaven in which iconography from religious myths is used subordinately in the description of real miracles. This turns around what tends to happen in religious descriptions of so-called miracles, in which there is nothing to stop angels, gods and the like from visibly flouting cause and effect, or from silently intervening to change the course of cause and effect.

In Ashvaghosha's vision of heaven, then, the decorative armlets of gods are relegated to a subordinate role in helping to describe fantastic objects like a peacock's feathers and a lion's mane that have evolved by means of natural selection in accordance with the law of cause and effect.

Thus, in his portrayal of heaven I think Ashvaghosha is demonstrating to us how the mind of a buddha-ancestor works -- not subjugating anything on earth to "as it is in heaven" (for who knows how it is in heaven?), but on the contrary imagining cause and effect to be absolute in heaven as it is on earth.

Yes, I am sure that the gold I am digging for now is absolute affirmation -- even in heaven, as it is on earth -- of cause and effect.

Either that or cause and effect is endeavouring to dig it out of stupid me, whose every bad action, since times without beginning, has stemmed from greed and from anger but especially from stupidity in regard to cause and effect.

EH Johnston:
A lion stood out, with his shoulder turned the colour of safflower from contact with the red arsenic and other ores, like a shattered silver brooch of ... inlaid with threads of refined gold.

Linda Covill:
And a lion with his shoulder yellowed from reclining on a rock of red arsenic looked like Ambika's broken silver armlet variously etched with refined gold.

manaHshilaa-dhaatushil"-aashrayeNa: because of resting on rock of red arsenic
manaH-shilaa: f. realgar , red arsenic
manas: n. mind
shilaa: f. a stone , rock , crag
dhaatu-shilaa: mineral rock, ore
dhaatu: m. element; primary element of the earth i.e. metal , mineral , are (esp. a mineral of a red colour)
shilaa: f. a stone , rock , crag
ashraya: m. seat , resting-place ; depending on ; joining , union ; dependance , contiguity , vicinity

piitaa-kRt'-aaMsaH: its shoulder yellowed
piitaa: mfn. (possibly fr. √pi or √pyai , the colour of butter and oil being yellowish) yellow ; m. a yellow pigment prepared from the urine of kine ; m. a kind of yellow pigment ; n. a yellow substance ; n. gold
kRta: mfn. made
aMsa: m. the shoulder
viraraaja = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vi- √ raaj: to reign , rule , govern; to be illustrious or eminent , shine forth, glitter; to appear as (nom.)
siMhaH (nom. sg.): m. m. ( prob. fr. √ sah, to vanquish) " the powerful one " , a lion

saMtapta-caamiikara-bhakti-citram (nom. sg. n.): brightly speckled with streaks of refined gold
saMtapta: mfn. greatly heated ; red-hot , molten , melted
caamiikara: n. gold
bhakti: f. distribution , partition , separation; division by streaks or lines ; a streak , line , variegated decoration; a row , series , succession , order ; (ifc.) the being a part of, belonging to
citra: mfn. bright , clear , bright-coloured; variegated , spotted , speckled (with instr. or in comp.); n. anything bright or coloured which strikes the eyes; n. a brilliant ornament , ornament

ruupy-aaNgadam (nom. sg.): n. a wrought armlet
ruupya: mfn. well-shaped , beautiful ; stamped , impressed ; n. wrought silver or gold , stamped coin , rupee
aNgada: n. a bracelet worn on the upper arm
shiirNam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. (fr. √ shRR) broken or rent asunder , shivered , crushed , shattered ; fallen away or out
√ shRR: to crush , rend , break ; to fall out or off
iva: like
ambikasya (gen. sg.): m. N. of a man


Jordan said...


Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan,

The Wiki entry on Parvati says:

"Parvati’s Vahana (animal vehicle), is usually considered to be a lion nowadays, in her form of Durga’s, but was probably originally one of the mountain lions native to the Himalayas."

Seems to fit.